If you’ve ever been excited about a new diet, only to see it fall apart at the first sign of ice cream, you understand the gap between theory and reality. As that gap can also be a challenge for researchers, they’re thrilled when concrete benefits emerge from their efforts. That’s something the team behind a Genome Alberta project to apply genomically-enhanced breeding values to the cattle industry is seeing firsthand. And as theory meets reality, the results are more exciting than a diet-busting bonbon.
“Producers pay to participate in this project, so we were working on how we could get them value for their money,” said Michelle Miller, CEO of Delta Genomics which is handling all of the genotyping for the project.
The fruit of their labor is EnVigour HXTM, a more readily available tool for the commercial cattle industry developed from project results.
“EnVigour HXTM combines parentage verification, genomic breed composition and a Vigour Score (assessment of hybrid vigour) to develop an optimized crossbreeding strategy that aligns with the producer’s goal for their herd,” said Miller.
The value of parentage has been proven repeatedly and ingrained in the purebred sector. As Miller pointed out, however, it’s a different story for crossbred cattle where a producer might get five or six good calves one year and have no idea why it happened or where they came from.
“Producers need to know which bulls produced the good calves and also which ones aren’t producing any and are costing them $1800 a year to stand in a field eating their money.”
Vigour Score is also a key part of the picture. If you can identify those animals with hybrid vigour right away, you can select them and keep them as your replacements, so Vigour Score acts as a tool to facilitate crossbreeding.
Here’s to your health
As Clinton Brons, VP Sales & Marketing for Delta Genomics, points out, “hybrid vigor feeds back into all sorts of traits from longevity and robustness to feed efficiency and overall health. When you select for animals that have these traits it goes right to your bottom line.”
It all adds up to exciting times for the industry and Delta Genomics.
“This is our first go at commercializing research coming out of universities and the first ‘made in Canada’ solution for crossbred cattle,” said Miller.
She’s also proud that their product incorporates all five principles of sustainable beef production identified by the CRSB (Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef). One example is preservation of natural resources as animals with increased hybrid vigour require less feed and water.
From Miller’s perspective though, it’s just the beginning.
“We’ll be doing more genotyping for the project over the next two years and working with researchers to add features or develop a series of services.”
For now, the challenge is conveying the benefits of EnVigour HXTM to producers.
Roping them in
“Often people in the business feel they can look at a calf or bull and figure out who the parents are, so they’re reluctant to pay for assistance like this,” said Clinton. “But they can’t say a certain cow is 30 per cent Angus just by eyeballing it or guess what its hybrid vigor will be if circumstances change.”
At the same time, Clinton understands the reservations.
“So many people come up the producers’ driveways to sell them the latest and greatest that will supposedly save them money if they just cut a cheque,” said Clinton. “We need to convince producers of the value this can add to their operations.”
And if it lives up to its billing, it could be worth more than the last donut to a disillusioned dieter.